Chinese food. Oh man, this topic could fill a textbook. Because China is such a huge country, there’s no simple way to summarize their food. Over the past five months in China, we’ve gotten pretty well acquainted with regional food but still have so much to learn! I’ll dig into what the differences are between Western Chinese food and authentic Chinese food, what we regularly eat in our province, and a bit about food throughout the rest of the country.
Western Chinese Food vs. Authentic Chinese Food
Before we moved to China, a lot of people warned us that the food wouldn’t be the same as American Chinese food. Yes, duh. Now this is true to a certain extent, but we’ve been surprised by some similarities! For example, they LOVE instant noodles! There are so many more ramen varieties than there are in the States, and they usually have more elaborate flavor packets, but the concept is the same. They’re sold everywhere, and are really common to eat on train rides. Our favorite is beef with spicy green pepper!
Another similarity between Western Chinese food and real Chinese food is the love of rice, noodles, and dumplings. Rice is more common in the South, and noodles and dumplings are more common in the North. At any restaurant meal in southern China, you can expect a large tub of rice to accompany anything you order. You then scoop it into your bowl and add your main dishes on top of it. All the oil and flavoring from the main dishes soak into the rice, making it flavorful and tasty! You can also order plenty of fried rice variations that are very similar to their American counterparts. Personally, though, I’m more partial to noodles and dumplings. Even though they’re not as common as in the South, there are a few good restaurants and street vendors in town that we visit for them regularly!
Of course, there are a lot of differences! Chow mein and orange chicken (or pretty much anything from Panda Express, RIP) aren’t really things here. The meat usually has a lot of bones because they pretty much chop up the animal willy-nilly. And in our province, everything is SPICY!
One other related side note is that their restaurant decorations are super similar! Red lanterns, waving gold cats, and koi fish are all extremely common in China.
Chinese Food: What We Eat
I’ll be completely honest, since we do have such a nice big kitchen (pictures here) I do cook a lot and don’t eat Chinese food all the time. Thomas eats at his school’s canteen a lot, but the food there is too oily for my taste. When we do eat out, some of our favorites are hot pot and barbecue.
Street barbecue is kind of like China’s after-bar food, which is kind of sad for us because that means they aren’t open till later at night. You select a bunch of sticks (ranging from vegetables to mammals to seafood), then they cover them with a delicious spicy powder and grill them up in a matter of minutes.
Individual hot pot is one of China’s greatest inventions. You pick your broth (about $0.75) and they bring it out in a small pot. There is a small electric burner at each seat for you to heat the broth up. Then you pick your skewered foods off a rotating conveyor belt and cook them in the hot pot yourself. Again, there are tons of vegetable and meat options, but also noodles, dumplings, and miscellaneous things like congealed blood (no, we haven’t tried it!). You also get a little dish to mix sauces and toppings.
The other option for hot pot is to go out in a large group and order a ton of sides! Some go in the hot pot (again, you cook it yourself), and some are meant to be eaten on their own. The table is circular and you can spin the inside of the table, so no one has to ask for a certain dish to be passed! Another awesome invention. We’ve been to a few large group dinners with teachers from our schools and they are always amazingly delicious! It helps to be with people who actually know what they’re ordering.
One American food that has made it big here is fried chicken! KFCs are wayyy more common than McDonald’s (although our town has neither), and there are a ton of KFC rip-offs everywhere. Foods we do miss here are pizza, tacos/burritos, burgers, cheese, and salty snacks. They do have really bad versions of pizzas and burgers here and I’ve learned to make my own taco shells, but we miss the real deal. Thankfully we have finally learned how to order online so we can get some types of cheese and snacks ordered through that!
Chinese Food in the Rest of the Country
Just a few quick last words about differences in Chinese foods! As I mentioned, rice is more common in the South while noodles and dumplings prevail in the North. The South is also known for spicy food, while the North plays with the balance of salty and sweet. Within those generalizations, there are tons of regional specialties! In our post on Hangzhou, I cover a TON of their local dishes that you won’t find much throughout the rest of China. In Beijing, peking duck is king (unfortunately, we only tried the burrito version). In our province, they make a lot of special dishes out of sticky rice as well as a dense, sweet bread wrapped in leaves. And the list goes on! So if any of you do visit China, be sure to look up region-specific dishes before you go so that you can make the most of your time!
That’s all for now, although I’m sure the topic of food will come up again in later posts! Let me know if you have any questions about living in China and I will cover them in the future. Lots of love to everyone back home! 💕